Racing: Chance reminder to recall Trouble's past

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The Independent Online

Before Cheltenham and the Blue Riband, there has been the flurry of white flags. Sackville, Best Mate and Bacchanal may be the leading ante-post choices for the Gold Cup on 14 March, but they are united in failure. All three surrendered their reputations last time out.

Before Cheltenham and the Blue Riband, there has been the flurry of white flags. Sackville, Best Mate and Bacchanal may be the leading ante-post choices for the Gold Cup on 14 March, but they are united in failure. All three surrendered their reputations last time out.

Sackville remains the general favourite despite defeat at Punchestown, while Best Mate and Bacchanal are still preferred in the bookmakers' lists to Florida Pearl, their conqueror in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

It is all as clear as a building-site puddle, which explains why there are 11 horses on offer between 6-1 and 16-1 for the Festival's most prestigious contest.

First Gold was the big-race favourite before his limp performance in the King George and, for the moment, runs better in François Doumen's conversation than he does on the track. If the French runner has been the talking horse for much of the build-up to Prestbury Park 2002 then the forgotten animal is no less than the reigning champion.

Looks Like Trouble has been off the racecourse for almost 14 months following his 20-length success in the James Nicholson Champion Chase at Down Royal, a victory which left him with a puncture injury to his near-fore tendon.

Florida Pearl was over 20 lengths behind that day, and he had earlier been among the vanquished in the Gold Cup. Willie Mullins was not the only satisfied trainer then in the wake of the King George. "Every time we've met Florida Pearl we've finished in front of him," Noel Chance, Look Like Trouble's handler, said yesterday. "You're always worried about a young pretender coming through, like a Bacchanal or a Best Mate, but they would have had to have beaten Florida Pearl pretty comprehensively to pose a danger to us in the Gold Cup.

"You could say it's an open Gold Cup but, to my mind, if we're not there then Florida Pearl is a good thing. He was second last time the Gold Cup was run and they said he didn't come up the hill. Well he did, but it was just not quick enough to cope with Looks Like Trouble.

"There is a big hole in Sackville and I cannot see anything that finished behind Florida Pearl in the King George beating him at Cheltenham.

"Best Mate was cruising entering the straight at Kempton and I thought it was all over. But it wasn't. He ended up going up and down on the spot. There are two things. First of all, he wasn't good enough to beat Florida Pearl. Secondly, he probably didn't stay. Don't forget he has got to go another two and a half furlongs plus up that hill at Cheltenham three times, which takes a bit of doing."

The big hole in Looks Like Trouble's tendon was finally filled in October. When Hattie Lawrance, a Lambourn vet, informed Chance and the horse's owner, Tim Collins, that the gelding had scanned clear they showed a useful turn of foot themselves. The Tote's 20-1 soon disappeared.

The 10-year-old worked at Huntingdon last month and piles up another building block of recuperation when he returns to Brampton on Friday. "It won't be a doddle around," Chance said. "He'll work pretty hard at a good racing pace all the way. He worked well this morning, a mile pretty severely up a reasonably steep hill. He did it very nicely."

A similar satisfied commentary came from another Lambourn trainer yesterday when Nicky Henderson announced that Marlborough had come through his first piece of work on turf after a wind operation.

The two could meet in the Aon Chase at Newbury, but, before then, Looks Like Trouble has an appointment in the John Bull Chase at Wincanton on Saturday week. The waiting is all but over. "We're starting to allow ourselves to get a little bit excited now," Chance said. "Although we're just that little bit in the dark because he's two or three runs short of his pristine condition and he'll certainly be a better horse the day after his next run than on the day itself.

"Instead of 12 pieces of work, we're maybe going to give him about nine, the cotton wool factor if you like because of the problems he's had. But he's in good shape and, after his first run, he'll be damned near at his best. He's working as well, if not better, than prior to Down Royal.

"Everyone seems to have forgotten him. Okay, if he gets comprehensively turned over on his next start then they have been right to forget him. But if he wins or runs a creditable race at Wincanton then he's the horse to beat at Cheltenham."

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